Vector image audio icon with sound wave going to a person who is sitting in a theater seat with a box of popcorn.

Fast facts about audio description

Answering the who, what, when, where, and why of audio description

In 2018, I launched a campaign to add a content warning for strobe and flashing lights in the movie Incredibles 2, after I got sick while watching the movie with my family in theaters. While talking to various media outlets about my experience, I mentioned how audio description had helped me follow along with the movie, and people almost always responded by asking “what is audio description?” or by asking what captioning had to do with strobe lights. Audio description is different from captioning, which has stricter legal requirements, but is still an incredible asset for helping people with vision loss to enjoy visual media. Here are some fast facts about audio description and how is used by blind and low vision viewers.

Who uses audio description?

Audio description is most commonly used by people with visual impairments, inclusive of blind and low vision, though can also be used by people who are photosensitive or that experience adverse effects from strobe/flashing lights, or people who are learning a new language. Audio description helps to answer questions as to what is going on, and why, providing important contextual information.

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What is audio description?

Audio description, sometimes referred to as descriptive audio or described video, is an additional narrator track that provides visual information for people who otherwise would not be able to see it. Audio description may be provided live by a narrator or pre-recorded ahead of time using either a professional narrator or synthesized voice. At live events such as theater, audio description is typically played on an assistive listening device (ALD), which is about the size of a cell phone, or on an external application- GalaPro is an example of an application that is used in live theater.

For streaming or online content, open audio description is used, meaning that the audio description automatically plays and does not require a special device.

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Where can it be found?

Audio description can be found in a variety of different settings, including but not limited to:

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When does it help?

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Why doesn’t it cost money to use?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Title III, people with disabilities legally cannot be charged more for requiring accommodations in public places. However, it is legal to charge a deposit or ask for an ID to serve as collateral for returning the audio description device. The most expensive deposit I have ever seen for a device is $25, which was refunded after I returned the device.

Who produces audio description?

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What are some examples of descriptions?

Some examples of audio description include:

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When can I request a device?

Guests can request audio description devices at the Guest Services or Accessibility kiosk at the venue, or call ahead of time to request an audio description device. It’s important to make sure the device is configured for audio description and not closed captioning, and this should be checked before leaving the kiosk, since guests cannot configure audio description devices on their own.

Where can I find an audio description logo?

In the United States, a standard logo for audio description was created that is placed next to movie and event titles that feature the service, near the closed captioning logo. It can also be on the accessibility information page of websites, or on signs at events. Some places may require advance notice to provide descriptive audio services but again, it’s not legal for users to be charged for receiving them.

Another source for finding audio described content is the American Council for the Blind’s Audio Description Project, which I have linked to below.

The audio description logo has the letters AD and three parenthesis

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Why is audio description important?

Audio description is the reason I am able to safely watch movies, TV shows, plays, and other live events as a person with low vision and photosensitivity, since I can get advance warnings about strobe/flashing lights and follow along without having to ask multiple questions. The availability of audio description is the number one thing I look for when considering what to watch, and I am grateful to see it is becoming more and more prevalent.

More posts on audio description from Veronica With Four Eyes

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes,

Updated October 2023; original post published June 2018

Back to Paths to Technology’s Home page

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